Push Forward Rewind - Buscalan 2016

Wang-Od 2016
Apo Whang (Wang, Fang) - Od, Kalinga 2016
And WE. ARE. BACK! Last January 2016 we’ve visited Buscalan for the second time. For those who’ve never heard of this place - Well, it’s the home of the Butbut tribe and the legendary Apo Whang-Od, the world renowned 97-yr old tattoo artist and to be specific - The last “Mambabatok”.
Culture, heritage and nature - these are the very ingredients that made our trip very fulfilling. How majestic it was to witness the beautiful mountain ranges of the Cordillera; hear the rush and gush of its glorious rivers; and, ultimately, get inked again by the lady legend herself. 

As usual, we took the trip using a private car. To add, we took a different road as well as we thought it would be wise to add adventure to the adventure, and since we don’t really pay much attention about this “new” and hopefully “short cut” might give us we ended up with sore and some headaches. The road was filled with potholes, rocks, wide cracks and bumps. Not to mention the lack of markings and signs. Talking about adventure!

Now, here’s the good thing - comparing and considering you’ve read the previous blog about our first hike up the village last 2015, which I’d say more of an exhausting and dreary story for some of us (or probably majority)... I’d say, we’ve improved so far. In fact, we breezed the trail for only 45 minutes or so (vs 2 hrs during 2015 visit). Oh, and no cramps! Yeah! Think the spirit of the mountains were already starting to possess us that time as we’ve already took a few hikes prior the trip.

We arrived at the village way past 7:00AM and directly headed to Whang-Od’s hut to pay our courtesy call as “marked friends”.  After some hugs and chitchats we immediately went to our local friend’s house, Kenneth, to settle down and rest. After an hour or two of small talks with 90% of complete garbage, a common friend approached and told us that we’re getting inked in a few minutes. Next thing we know - dripping blood and the tapping sound of WHang-Od’s, Elyang’s and Grace’s “batok” as they pummeled their way to our aching skin. We all got inked in little less than 3 hours. Now, talking bout’ difference!  

As majority of the crowd gathered on her small hut to experience the bloody and stingy taste of this centuries-old art, I’d say there were some who are genuinely eager to take the challenge as more of a spiritual cleansing or some sort of cultu-sprititual rite rather than just another sick hype. Although, there were some who are obviously just after the heck of it. But, who are we to judge? It’s, indeed, more than what it appears to be - a simple skin art. Do you research lads, pay respect to this once exclusive and glorious initiation and honorary rite.  “Nothing beats a classic!”, as others would say. Well, dig your roots and appreciate your culture. It ain’t just a handmade tattoo. It’s “batok” - an indelible mark of our proud Filipino culture and heritage.

For you lads who’d like to visit Apo Whang-Od and engage in this honorary rite, here are some helpful tips:

Not to do’s (if you have sound mind you won’t be needing this believe me):
  • Do not be overly rowdy and loud (common sense people)
  • I suggest you refrain from giving chocolates and other unhealthy food to locals esp the old ones. Like, please think of how they were able to reach such old age and then there you are polluting their diet.
  • Do not harass nor feed inappropriately the animals (mostly native hogs) loitering around the village. They consider these creatures as their priced possessions and source of living.
  • Treat the locals, their culture and rites with much respect. Ask before you take photos of anyone. Please be mindful of your actions. They may not proactively react to your insolence but please be sensitive enough.


Price varies largely depending on the size of the tattoo (PHP200-1,000 on average). Officially there are 3 artists who do the work: The last and official Mambabatok Apo Wang-od ; and, 2 of her granddaughters Grace and Elyang who are up to the task of continuing the tradition. Just think about it, you’re inside a village of a centuries old tribesmen and women and you’re about to be given an honorary mark by no less than a chieftain and legend. Priceless! And, yeah, given the right circumstance, you may would like to consider giving extra. Quick tip, Apo Whang-Od loves shirts and accessories. And, instead of giving unhealthy food (candies, junk food) to the children and other village folks (who are likely to ask something from you as a friendly gesture), it’s best to give them school supplies and/or grocery stuff. 


Homestay is the most common and I’d say best option. On average it costs PHP250/pax. Look for our good (local) friend “Kenneth”. He owns a well built house specially made for visitors (shared lodging) strategically located alongside the rice paddies of one of the terraces in the village. I do not mean to degrade the other homes, I just think it’s practical and more appropriate if we can refrain from being a hassle to the village folks. Not to mention invading the privacy of their homes.


    There are few options to reach the famed town of Buscalan using public transportation:
    • Manila-Tabuk-Buscalan Route
      • This route is approximately 17 hours. Take a Tabuk City bound bus (e.g. Victory Liner). Tabuk bound buses are available at Kamias station. Travel time is around 10-12 hours. Disembark in front of St. William’s Cathedral in Tabuk.
      • Once in Tabuk, take a bus or jeepney to Bontoc. Take a stop at Bugnay. Travel time is around 3-4 hours. There are also vans available going directly to Buscalan from Tabuk though do not in frequent manner. We'd highly recommend taking it as a means of transpo since it'll drop you off directly at the jump-off.
      • From the jump-off you will need to hike for an hour or two to reach the village proper. 
    • Manila-Banaue-Bontoc-Buscalan Route
      • Approximately 15 hours of commute. Start off by riding a bus from Manila to Banaue via Ohayami Trans (Fare: PHP490 - approx 10 hours). In Banaue, take a van going to Bontoc for PHP150 (approx 3 hours). Once in Bontoc, ride a bus bound to Tabuk that passes through Tinglayan (Fare: PHP90 for an hour bus ride). From there, you have two options; travel via foot or ride a habal-habal (motorcycle) to take you to the jump-off point.
    Note that there are other routes that you can take but these are the only ones we know.


    This has been a yearly ritual for team Kunjang, to visit and return to our "happy" place - Buscalan. Remember the dreaded "shortcut" I was talking about earlier? That road was via Ilocos Sur. Here's our Itinerary:

    DAY 1

    • 4:00PM - 6:00AM: Travel from Manila to Bugnay - Tinglayan (Jump-off)
    • 6:00AM - 7:00AM: Hike from jump-off point to Buscalan
      • The hike can be easy and/or hard, depending on the time of the day. During midday esp during summer, the scorching heat of the sun may add to the difficulty. You may find yourself suffering from shortness of breath due to high altitude and exhaustion from heat. Need not to worry though, your tour guide along with some kids will help you with your baggage in-case you're carrying shit-load of stuff. 
    • 7:00AM - 8:00PM: Explore the town and socialize with the butbut tribe.
      • Since this is our second visit, we're already familiar with the pasikot-sikot. As usual, we stayed in the house of local friend, Kenneth.
    • 8:00PM: Light's off.

    DAY 2

    • 5:30AM - 6:30AM: Breakfast
    • 6:30AM - 10:00AM: Tattoo time!
      • Make sure that you wake up as early as you can because the long queue of visitors can be a pain in the ass. Trust us, we've learned the hard way during our first visit.
    • 10:00AM - 11:00AM: Free time
    • 11:00AM - 12:00NN: Lunch
      • Don't be picky on your food as the village has a short supply when it comes to canned goods and quick foods.
    • 12:00NN - 1:00PM: Pack up, ready for departure.
    • 1:00PM - 2:00PM: Descend to jump-off.
    • 2:00PM - 5:00AM: Travel from Bugnay to Manila

    Lady legend folks! The last “Mambabatok” Apo Whang-Od
    Lady legend folks! The last “Mambabatok” Apo Whang-Od


    Apo Wang-Od uses the good'ol tools her ancestors used. Can you imagine being hammered by a stick with a pomelo thorn on its end? Man up! The ink is a mixture of charcoal and water where the thorn is dipped. And, yeah, it'll deeply penetrate your skin (hence the term bâtok) so you better think about your life choices really.

    After the session, a petroleum jelly-ish type of cream which some folks jokingly (or seriously...) say horse semen (Yeah, they're kinda humorous in their own ways) will then be applied as a form of topical moisturizer/anti bacterial agent.
    Tools used in the art of “Batok”: Bamboo and wooden stick, thorn from Pomelo tree
    Tools used in the art of “Batok”: Bamboo and wooden stick, thorn from Pomelo tree
    Tools used in the art of “Batok”: Bamboo and wooden stick, thorn from Pomelo tree
    Tools used in the art of “Batok”: Bamboo and wooden stick, thorn from Pomelo tree


    Of course! Esp during the first 5-10 minutes, but then your skin will be numb after a short while. I've seen a big guy who requested a big tattoo and it took 2-3 hours to finish. It's bearable regardless of your pain resistance (*wink*).
    Whang-Od doing some "bloody" work of art
    Whang-Od doing some "bloody" work of art
    Apo Whang-Od doing the traditional batok
    Apo Whang-Od doing the traditional batok
    After all this years, Apo Whang-Od is still accurate and very calm
    After all this years, Apo Whang-Od is still accurate and very calm
    Elyang, niece of Apo Whang-Od
    Elyang, dubbed as Buscalan’s  “international artist” for doing international tours as a tattoo artist
    Elyang and Grace, the next mambabatok in-line.
    Two of the official “batok” artists and Apo’s granddaughters, Elyang and Grace.

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